A Consideration of Nicknames


Why isn’t anybody called Butch anymore, unless she is a lesbian wearing spurs?  What happened to “Freckles” for kids with, you know, freckles?  And, why is Bubba only used for little old Jewish grandmas? For the most part, individual nicknames have gone the way of bubblegum cards and Trolls.  You just don’t hear much about them, anymore.  They have been replaced by social categories, such as: Dude, Homey and Girlfriend, monikers that are shared by millions.  Perhaps, these make people feel if not good, then at least part of a large, unoriginal family.  I have always preferred to be called by my own name, but there are certain handles that caress my insides with the soft hands of a loving mother.

I was lucky to have known my great-grandmother Sophie who died when I was eight.  She always called me Robbie-Joyeleh, her slightly Yiddish mash-up of my first and middle names.  Her choice of designation made me grin widely back then as it does today whenever I think of that strong, feisty woman who had all the patience in the world for her progeny.

My father calls me Sweetheart most of the time.  He owns that word and whenever I hear anybody else say it, I think of my dad showing his gentle side, the face reserved for family.

These days, there are many self-absorbed, possibly insecure oafs who are likely to knight themselves: Downtown Dan or Steve the Situation. When George Costanza from “Seinfeld” decided to call himself “T-Bone” at work, he was instead dubbed “Koko” by his colleagues.  Nicknames seem too artificial when created by their owners as if they are asking the world to only see them as they would like to be perceived.  Each tag is worn like a hairstyle or a particular brand of running shoe, all part of a false image that has no basis in reality.

 A handle that emerges organically and is based on a person’s genuine aspect, celebrates the real meaning of personal branding.  As a teenager, I had a friend who all the kids affectionately called, Peewee.  Yes, she was diminutive, but the name was an expression of fondness.  I haven’t seen the woman in twenty-five years and she is now in her early fifties, but if I ever trip over her, I will exclaim, “Peewee!” and give her a hug.

 Nicknames that are also pet names work best when they are sacred to one person.  My youngest son, Harrison, is known as “Monkey” around our house.  He is wily and mischievous and the name simply evolved.  I say it with love and I only say it to him. When my oldest son, Charlie, was a baby, I dubbed him “Chuckles” for his dimples and penchant for giggling.  Again, the name grew from authentic characteristics.

 Whether speaking with service people or simply striking up a conversation with a stranger, I am constantly taken aback by how easily and annoyingly others use terms of endearment.  There is nothing quite as irritating as a sales woman in her early twenties, young enough to literally be my daughter, addressing me as Hon.  Have I turned into a semi-savage fighter from the olden days?  No, I am not a Hun, and “Hon”, an abbreviated form of Honey, Honey-Pie, and Honey Bear is, as far as I am concerned, not in the purview of a twenty-three year old kid.  I would rather be called Ma’am.  I would almost rather be addressed as Sir, an appellation I have endured on occasion given my short hair and lack of dangling earrings.

 “Dear” is a word best left to women who are, at minimum, in their nineties. They have earned the right to use terms of endearment on strangers because they have survived more procedures than me.

Lately, many sales people and wait staff have opted to use the word, Miss.  At first, I wondered if they presumed I was un-betrothable, or that I perhaps resembled a dour British schoolmarm from the 1940s. I have since become aware that “Miss” is a replacement for “Ma’am” and that is acceptable although I think we should consider wearing nametags as if we’re at a worldwide convention. That way, I could be addressed as Robin whether I am picking up shirts at the cleaner’s or being robbed.

Early last summer, I was hospitalized for ten long days with a burst appendix.  My surgeon, an otherwise gentle, talented man, persisted in addressing me as Sharon Stone instead of Robin Stone.  With a tube rammed up my nose and down my oesophagus, my sense of humour was seriously compromised.  I resented what I thought was my surgeon’s cavalier attitude until I later learned that he is deeply religious and respectful and that calling me Sharon was an honest mistake.  I am guessing that seeing “Basic Instinct” had a lasting effect on my doctor.  But, his intentions were good.

Terms of endearment also dissipate in value when they are overused.  If I am consistently referred to as “Baby” or “Sweet Cheeks”, I will not feel adored, just mildly concerned that the junk in my trunk is overdue for a major vacuuming.  It is conversely true, that if I have worked hard on something and an appreciative audience says, “Way to go, Kiddo”, the name is wildly complimentary, combining authority with affection.  And, sometimes, if I am having an incredibly bad day and a close friend says, “I get it, Sweetie Pie”, the term acts like an embrace when a hug is exactly what is required.

While I have been called by many monikers in my life: Rockit, R.J., L.A. (Little Ankles), D.S. Mother (Drill Sergeant), P.O.W. (Piece of Work) and several other unprintable appellations, there is one title that I never tire of hearing.  In fact, as my sons grow older, I crave the sound of my favourite name of all, the one that makes me taste sugar and feel like I am Queen of the World: Mama.

If you have any monikers that drive you nuts or that make you smile, write a response and share them.

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